One has to tread carefully when reviewing an act made up of musicians from bands that have been successful, the obvious reason being that they will be accomplished musically (unless they are Jimmy Nail) and will — unlike most of us — have been involved in the impossibly rare task of writing a hit record. For those that are curious, Big Big Train consist of various members of the collectively diverse XTC, It Bites and, er, Spock's Beard. OK, so we aren't exactly talking about The Traveling Wilburys here, but come on....XTC and It Bites were pretty good, right?
Unfortunately, however, the Big Big Train band is not quite greater than the sum of its parts. Which is a shame, as I was looking forward to seeing what they'd done with their pool of talent. Don't get me wrong: there are moments of wonderful proggy greatness, such as 'Last Train', which wouldn't be out of place on a Genesis album. But sometimes they are sonically so confusing it's like being in that unique spot at a festival where you can hear Pink Floyd on the main stage, Primal Scream on An‑Other stage and a brass band on the folk stage, weirdly complemented by a flautist doing a solo spot on the New World Jazz Beardy Face Stage. Maybe this soundclash is what happens when band members made up of different influences get together. Who knows? It's almost right, but to my mind, still a little confused about what it wants to be. Sarah Bowden
Are there two more terrifying words in the English language than "blues jam”? In these days when pubs and clubs are dominated by gurning tone‑questers with more wattage than taste, we need more bands like We Happy Few, who actually seem to have more than a passing acquaintance with the blues tradition. Their recordings also demonstrate that it's not necessary to have expensive gear to sound pretty decent.
The original plan, apparently, was to slum it by recording to a Tascam eight‑track cassette machine, and only when this broke did they resort to going digital. Thanks to sympathetic mixing, the core sound of the band — based around acoustic guitar, double bass, hand percussion and vocals — has survived the transition fairly smoothly, and although most of the Logic‑based tracks were recorded through overdubbing, the feel hasn't suffered. Sam Inglis
I appreciate that this may make me sound like a scared, curtain‑twitching pensioner, but when I first looked at Gorman's photos, I was expecting music along the lines of Green Day, not melancholic guitar‑based indie songs. Looks aside, however — although, let's face it, guys, if you're reading this, maybe you should consider that outside of Glasgow most women prefer men without Mohicans — their music is pretty good. Singer Chris Gorman fits into the same sad and broken whispery vocal bracket as Gary "if I just lay here” Lightbody, and musically they're reminiscent of Athlete and even Mogwai in parts. In fact, it's safe to say that there are probably girls (not men, we are in Scotland after all) who are crying themselves to sleep listening to Gorman as you read this. Sarah Bowden
Not being the sort of thing you can knock out in a spare half‑hour at the end of a band rehearsal, Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells, Part One hasn't attracted all that many cover versions. Until now, that is. David Impey has not only produced a sprawling, 32‑minute account of his attempt on Mount Prog, but throws in a 20‑minute version of George Winston's 'Colors/Dance', plus an odd little three‑minute effort of his own.
You have to admire his ambition, and Impey certainly brings his own slant to the material. With hints of techno and even drum & bass, it's replete with growling basses, brutal drum loops and abrasive synths. From an arrangement and performance point of view, it's pretty accomplished, but unfortunately it sounds as though it was mastered to coarse‑grade sandpaper. The mix, or at least many of the elements with in it, is laden with crunchy distortion that gets tiring to listen to way before the music does. Sam Inglis
John Gomm plays the guitar like he has 40 fingers, each one with those really long pointy picking fingernails that men grow when they busk for a living, or when they are trying to break a world record (currently standing at over six metres, if you are interested in having hands that look like magnified eagle claws for the next five years). Think woodpecker with record‑breaking fingernails, and you should be able to imagine what I mean when I say there is a lot of tap‑tap‑tapping in the Don't Panic EP.
Vocally, you'll be relieved to know that Gomm is less reminiscent of a rare woodland bird and more along the lines of Sting. Although if, like me, you didn't like Sting's 'nose flute' chapter when he starting singing in Kazakhstani and wearing Christmas jumpers, then really all you are left with is an album made by a woodpecker with Sting's face, wearing a Christmas jumper, with human fingers. T‑t‑t‑t‑t‑t‑tiny bit weird. Sarah Bowden